What About Supplements?

Eating a sensible, balanced Whole Food Plant Based diet (WFPB) allows you to eat until you’re full and provides comfort in knowing that you’re consuming large amounts of health promoting nutrients.  By getting your nourishment from whole and minimally processed plant foods, you’re also consuming nutrients in the appropriate quantities and proportions – the way nature intended.  Therefore, there is no need for healthy people to take supplements that contain high concentrations of specific nutrients.

Vitamin B-12 is an exception to this rule.  Vitamin B-12 is made by bacteria that, until modern farming sanitation came into being, would be found on plants that weren’t scrupulously cleaned after being pulled from the ground.  Today, anyone eating a 100% plant based diet is encouraged to consume vitamin B-12 in supplement form (ie. pills or fortified foods).

Animals (humans too) harbor B-12-making bacteria in their large intestines.  Unfortunately for humans, the B-12 is too far downstream to be absorbed into the bloodstream.  People who follow a WFPB diet with the occasional serving of meat, fish, poultry or dairy, may be getting enough B-12 and would not need to supplement.

Click here for more information on vitamin B-12.

Nearly half of US adults use dietary supplements.  Supplements are a $30 billion a year business.  Reagan Baily, a nutritional epidemiologist in the Office of Dietary Supplements, states that “the majority of scientific data available do not support the role of dietary supplements for improving health or preventing disease.”

Our web site is all about spreading the news that, unlike dietary supplements, WFPB diets improve health and prevent disease. Marianne Neuhouser, Affiliate Professor of Epidemiology at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle Washington states: “If someone is eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains – a wide variety of foods – they should be getting all the nutrition they need.”

Individuals who have been diagnosed with nutrient deficiencies caused by malabsorption or medical treatments may have supplements prescribed for them by their physicians.

But if you are healthy with no sign of nutrient deficiency, supplements can be a waste of money at best and harmful to your health at worst.

Dr. Matthew Lederman and his wife Dr. Alona Pulde are licensed medical physicians practicing nutrition and lifestyle medicine in Los Angeles California.  Their clinic is called Exsalus Health and Wellness Center.  Dr. Lederman and Pulde also wrote the great book “Keep It Simple, Keep It Whole: Your Guide To Optimum Health which extols the virtues of the WFPB lifestyle.

In the book, they explain how the so called benefits of supplementing specific nutrients are often exaggerated and/or misleading, They also share examples of supplements causing harm. They do not insist that all supplements be avoided as they understand the need for B-12 supplementation. and, in some cases, vitamin  D supplementation. The common sense take-home messages they share should be heeded by all.

Dr Lederman and Pulde’s Take Home Messages on Taking Supplements 

  • Whenever possible, we should get our nutrients from the whole food source rather than supplement with a pill.
  • Nature has provided us with foods that are perfectly packaged with proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and fibers.
  • Supplements introduce not only a synthetic product into the body, but do so in artificial amounts (often higher than our actual need)
  • Supplements are not benign and should be treated like medication (taken as a last resort by people who are truly deficient and/or unable to obtain, absorb, or metabolize the original source).
  • A Multivitamin CANNOT substitute for the abundance and assortment of antioxidants and phytochemicals available in natural whole foods.
  • The two exceptions:
    • Vitamin B-12 – especially for vegans and vegetarians
      • Vitamin B-12 is made by bacteria
      • Animals get their B-12 from these bacteria
    • Vitamin D ONLY for those people unable to obtain it naturally through sun exposure.

 Here is a good maxim to follow; when in doubt, DON’T supplement.


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